by Greg Muskewitz
"Princess Mononoke," a Japanese import made in their native land in 1997, is visually, and
sometimes plottingly original too."Mononoke" is a Japanese animated movie following the odyssey
"The visual look of the film is more worthy than its mundane story"
of Ashitaka (voice of Billy Crudup), a young prince who had to leave his tribe because he was
infected with a poison that would corrupt him. It's a story of beasts, gods, and spirits, and
his discovery of Princess Mononoke, AKA San (Claire Danes), who is only once referred to as
Mononoke, which can often make the titling strategy quite confounding. Not to mention the fact
that the movie's poster is quite similar to that of "Caligula's" which coincidentally just
happens to be in re-release in honor of its 25th anniversary (but is anybody celebrating?).
"Mononoke's" assets lay not in its storytelling, but in the creative and imaginative
pictures it puts upon the screen. I was somewhat disappointed by the mundane story it presented,
but the fashion in which it presented it, made it completely worthwhile. The animation was
gorgeous --much more than that of "Tarzan," and it never required any sudden outbursts of
singing. What music they did use in the background, helped contribute to the overall effect of
fascination and amazement (the Tree Spirits were too cool), and again, if not a sappy ending, it
did not detract from the quality of the film. One of the most wildly imaginative and sensual
scenes included San sucking the blood out of her mother, a wolf god, after being shot, and then
spitting it out and smearing some of it across her face, and also a scene in which she must chew
Ashitaka's food for, and feed it to him (it is rated PG-13, but mostly for violence, a little
language, no sex).
What does detract from the film, it the obvious "white" sounding voices. Why not cast
unknown, Asian dialects? Billy Bob Thornton and Claire Danes would not have been my primary
candidates in the first place. Also, the running time is over two-hours and 20-minutes, more
than 40-minutes overlong, and rumored to have been even longer in its original Japanese format.
But no matter, "Princess Mononoke" is a beautiful film to look at with wonderfully textured and
top notch animation. I only wonder if Neil Gaiman, in charge of the English version of the
screenplay, did not manipulate director/writer Hayao Miyazaki's original vision. Although this
will no doubt be trampled in the rush for the other Japanese import, "Pokémon," out in theaters
tomorrow."Mononoke" makes me want to go back and watch some of Miyazaki's other works, such as the more popular "My Neighbor Totoro," and others. But I have a hard time grasping how someone like Ebert goes gaga over something like this when he constantly complains about lack of story quality and originality. Be consistent, don't go for the favortism route (as far as his raves go), but do catch it at some point, because the animation is beautiful.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=1574&reviewer=172
originally posted: 11/11/99 03:49:04